Since time immemorial, food has been a part of our identity and like every other thing, it has also witnessed evolution. There are different reasons for choosing to eat a type of food; eating for good health is just one of them. Our culture, religion, ethics, environment, intolerance towards some foods and medical conditions lead us to decide our preferences. We also have our own likes and dislikes, which further shape our choices.
Today there are more than a hundred diets available for weight loss, weight gain, lowering cholesterol, and other ailments. We are flooded with so much information on food that it sometimes forces us to believe that one way of eating is better than the other. The jury is still out on what is more weight-inducing carbs or fats. But the fact remains that we eat food, and not nutrients in compartments.
Why Indian thali ?
Over the years, many food and nutrition critics have labelled our Indian diet as unhealthy due to excess use of high carbs, sugar and unhealthy fats increasing the risk of non-communicable diseases. However, our traditional Indian food still scores a 10/10 for balanced nutrition and taste and slowly, and quite steadily, the world is also taking cue.
Every region of India offers its choicest dishes on a platter. We call that a Thali in Hindi and it needs no introduction. It has been an integral part of our everyday eating, festivals and celebrations. Though the traditional thali in the form of a banana leaf in Southern India and a stitched banyan leaves plate in the North have now been replaced by steel and glassware, the dishes till remain the same. My thali still epitomizes a balanced meal not just to meet our nutrient requirements but also to boost our immunity and overall health.
Reasons why an Indian thali is a balanced and wholesome meal
1. It gives all the nutrients proteins, carbs, fats, minerals and vitamins from the various food groups on the platter (grains, pulses, veggies, spices and milk products).
2. The combination of cereals and pulses as rajma-chawal, bisibelle bhat, khichadi, dal-rice, provide all the essential amino acids to make it a complete protein that helps in building an army of antibodies to fight against diseases.
3. The cooked veggies as saag and the raw veggies as salad and chutney provide ample vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber to protect us against diabetes, heart ailments and cancers.
4. Homemade Curd / buttermilk not only add the needed calcium and proteins they also act as probiotics and aid in digestion.
5. All our Indian spices and herbs (pepper, ginger, garlic, cumin, cloves, fenugreek seeds, turmeric, mint, curry leaves) are not just flavouring agents; they also contain antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial and antiviral properties due to the natural chemical compounds they contain which help fight-off infection and also improve metabolism.
6. Our Indian foods like buttermilk, paneer, dosa-idli, khaman, naan which involve fermentation are not only excellent sources of probiotics, B- vitamins, vitamin K2 and essential amino acids but also play a role in removal of toxins and maintaining a healthy gut.
7. A quarter of lemon served in our thali not just adds Vitamin C but also helps in increasing the absorption of iron from our foods.
8. The Indian clarified butter i.e our ghee added in dals, rice and spread on chapatis serves as an excellent source of Vitamin A, healthy fats and antioxidants.
How to you make your thali healthier
1. Add complex carbs like millets (bajra, jowar, ragi, maize) and brown rice in place of white rice and wheat. These are rich in B complex vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre.
2. Control your portion size. Every extra roti adds an extra 80 calories and an additional serving of rice adds 150 calories.
3. Reduce salt, sugar and oil intake.
4. Opt for steamed, sauteed, baked, roasted or pressure-cooked food. These cooking methods help in preserving nutrients.
5. Go for local, seasonal and fresh fruits and vegetables rather than imported exotic ones. These are not only more nutritious but also contain less pesticides.
The use of combinations of foods along with addition of spices and right amount of fats creates a synergy which yields maximum health benefits. It not only boosts physical health but also improves mental wellbeing. A good example is adding pepper to your turmeric milk. Presence of pepper helps in absorption of curcumin from turmeric in our body, increasing its antioxidant property.
Hence, in my opinion, sticking to my thali is the best decision I have made for the times to come.
About Author: Meghana Pasi is a certified nutritionist, she has worked with Government Organizations, NGO sectors, Universities and other institutions